Banana chips seem to be everywhere these days -- in cereal, trail mix and healthy snack foods in grocery stores. Banana chips are tasty little guys, although their health benefits depend on how they're made and processed. Making them at home is likely the healthiest option because some store-bought brands contain lots of potentially harmful additives.
Banana chips are made by slicing and dehydrating bananas, which keeps them edible for longer periods of time. You can use a special dehydrating device to make banana chips, but baking or frying them is a more common method. Baked banana chips are typically lower in fat, cholesterol and salt than fried varieties. Banana chips are mildly sweet and crunchy snacks that contain a variety of nutrients, but they are not as healthy or nutritious as fresh bananas.
Fresh bananas are rich in potassium, and banana chips have similar amounts of the mineral because potassium isn’t destroyed by most forms of cooking. As an example, 1.5 ounces of banana chips contain about 225 milligrams of potassium, which is about 6 percent of your recommended daily amount. Potassium acts as an electrolyte in your body, which means that it conducts electrical currents. Potassium is important for normal muscle tone, heart contractions and the distribution of water throughout your body. A lack of potassium often leads to muscle cramps, weakness, edema and irregular heartbeat.
Bananas are good sources of fiber no matter how you eat them. A 1.5-ounce serving of banana chips contains about 3 grams of fiber, which is almost 12 percent of your recommended daily amount. Most Americans only get about half the dietary fiber they should, which often leads to digestive issues and bowel problems. Dietary fiber bulks your stool, helps clean out your large intestine and promotes regular bowel movements. Water-soluble fiber can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and prevent blood sugar spikes. Drink plenty of water with fiber-rich snacks; otherwise you may find yourself battling constipation. Fiber soaks up a lot of water as it passes through your intestines.
The amount of calories in a serving of banana chips is highly dependent on how they are made, but bananas are naturally rich in carbohydrates, which your body can easily break down and use for energy. Banana chips fried in coconut oil are high in saturated fat, which is very different from saturated animal fat. The predominant saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which your body digests quickly and easily to use for fuel. In contrast, other types of saturated fat -- such as animal fat -- are stored as adipose tissue, which your body metabolizes only when it is severely lacking in dietary carbohydrates. Coconut oil also contains no cholesterol.
Baking banana chips at home is easy and the best way to ensure that they do not include unhealthy additives. Bananas contain more fructose sugar as they ripen, so use them to make your chips if you have a sweet tooth. If you decide to buy banana chips, don’t be scared off if the label reads "fried or baked in coconut oil," because lauric acid is relatively healthy in moderation.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.